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A Few Reflections on Adolf Hitler

I have just finished reading, Hitler: Ian Kershaw’s brilliant, two-volume biography on Adolf Hitler. Over the course of 1432 pages, Kershaw uncovers why Hitler, a man not all too dissimilar from other tyrants in history, has become synonymous with evil.

Kershaw also reveals the gap between Hitler’s public image and private personality. He reveals the difference between the rabble rouser capable of captivating the masses by exploiting their fears, prejudices, and desires, and the lacklustre reality. Kershaw shows how Hitler transformed Nazism into a national religion – complete with its own songs, fables, and rituals – and how he transformed himself into its demagogue.  

Hitler projected a persona that embodied all the ideals of German nationalism. He presented himself as the archetype of German pride, efficiency, and self-discipline. In Hitler, the German people found the living embodiment of their fears and aspirations.

Furthermore, Hitler presented himself as the saviour of a nation on the brink of ruin. This was not entirely his doing, by the early-thirties things had grown so dire in Germany that people were willing to throw their lot in with anyone promising to restore law, order, and honour. Hitler promised all that and more. Utilising what we today would recognise as identity politics, Hitler promised to restore national pride and wreak vengeance on Germany’s enemies. He divided the world into victims (the German people), perpetrators (international Jewry and Marxists), and saviours (the Nazis).

It would be far too simplistic, however, to conclude that Hitler brainwashed the German people. Rather, Hitler and the German people became intertwined in the same unconscious conspiracy. Hitler may have been the one to espouse the kind of murderous ideas that led to Auschwitz and Stalingrad, but it was the German people who gave those ideas their full, unconscious support. As time marched on, Hitler’s sycophancy was taken as political genius.

By telling the German people what they wanted to hear, Hitler was able to present himself as a national saviour. The reality was far different. He was a man with virtually no personality. He had no connection whatsoever with ordinary people. He never held an ordinary job, never had children, and only married his mistress, Eva Braun, the day before his suicide. Albert Speer, the Nazi architect and one of the few men Hitler counted as a friend, described him as a duplicitous, insecure individual who surrounded himself with shallow and incompetent people, laughed at the misfortunes of others, and retreated into “fantastic mis-readings” or reality.

Furthermore, whilst Hitler presented himself as the hardworking political demagogue of unmatched genius, he was, in reality, a lazy, egotistical man whose rise to power rested on the cynical manipulation of national institutions. Far from being the tireless worker he presented himself to be, Hitler actually proved unable to deal with numerous major crises during the War because he was still asleep. He saw his role as being the creator of Nazi ideology. The actual running of Germany he left to his functionaries.

When Hitler toured Paris following the fall of France in 1940, he made a special visit to the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Saluting the Emperor’s marble tomb, Hitler commented, in typical egotistical style that like Napoleon his tomb would only bear the name “Adolf” because “the German people would know who it was.”

He was not entirely wrong. The name Adolf Hitler is remembered today. However, far from being remembered as the founder of a thousand-year Reich, he is remembered as a genocidal fruitcake whose legacy is as inglorious as his life. Hitler and Napoleon may have been similar in many ways (both were foreigners to the countries they would end up ruling, both reigned for a short period of time, and both significantly altered the course of history), but where Napoleon left a legacy that is still very much with today, Hitler failed to leave anything of lasting significance

But perhaps that is precisely what Hitler wanted. Carl Jung has a dictum: if you want to understand someone’s motivations for doing something, look at the outcome and infer the motivation. In his brief twelve-years in power, Hitler led the German people into a war that cost fifty-million lives, presided over a Holocaust that murdered eleven million people, and oversaw the destruction of the old Europe. If Adolf Hitler could be summarised in a single quote, the line from the ancient Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita would prove sufficient: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

NAPOLEON SYNDROME

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Shorter men who attempt to assert or defend themselves are frequently met with the harrowing accusation that they are suffering from ‘Napoleon complex’, otherwise known as ‘short man syndrome.’ While there is some evidence – based both on research and common experience – that this may be the case, the root causes of the issue reveal a problem that is more complex and entrenched than the general public would like to believe.

The term ‘Napoleon complex’ was first coined by Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937)  in 1912. Remarkably, however, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), the man for whom ‘Napoleon syndrome’ is named, was not actually short. Napoleon’s personal physician, Francesco Antommarchi (1780 – 1838), recorded the deposed Emperor’s height as being five pieds, two pouces, or five-feet, six-and-a-half inches. This was a half-inch taller than the average Englishman of the time, and a full two inches taller than the average Frenchman. The myth of Napoleon’s short stature comes from two places. First is the fact that Napoleon frequently surrounded himself with men taller than himself. Height requirements specified that the Grenadiers in the Elite Imperial Guard be 5’10 or over, whilst members of the Mounted Chasseurs had to be 5’7. To any casual observer, Napoleon would have looked noticeably smaller by comparison. And second, there is the anti-Napoleonic propaganda that frequently depicted the Emperor as small.

Like many physical characteristics, height can have a profound effect on a person’s self-perception. The shorter man’s poor self-perception begins in childhood when smaller children are often the targets of taunts and ridicule. As adults, shorter men are more likely to be overly-aggressive, domineering, and have an increased proclivity for resorting to extreme measures in order to prove themselves. Unfortunately, research shows that shorter men may, in extreme cases, resort to violence as a means of disguising their insecurities. The Journal of Injury Prevention found that men who struggled with their height and masculinity were three times more likely to commit violent assaults using a weapon. This study, which involved six-hundred American men aged between eighteen and fifty, asked participants to answer two sets of questions. The first asked about their self-image, drug use, and violent behaviour. The second set of questions asked the participants about their beliefs on gender roles, how they felt women and their friends perceived them, how they perceived their own masculinity, and how much they’d like to be a “macho man.”

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Taller men are far more likely to succeed in positions of authority and power than shorter men. An early study of height and occupation reveals bishops to be taller than parish priests, sales managers to be taller than salesmen, and university presidents to be taller than the presidents of more modest higher-education facilities. In US Presidential elections, it is typically the taller of the two Presidential candidates that end up winning: John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963) was six-feet tall compared to Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) who was five-foot-eleven, Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) was six-foot-one compared to Jimmy Carter (1924 – ) who was five-foot-ten, and Barack Obama (1961 – ) was six-foot-one compared to John McCain’s (1936 – ) who was five-foot-nine.

And, as if that isn’t bad enough, merely finding employment can be a struggle for many shorter men. A 2001 study by Nicolo Persico, Andrew Postlewaite, and Dan Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania, found that shorter teenagers had a harder time finding employment than their taller counterparts. Persico, Postlewaite, and Silverman chalked this up to the attitudes and worldview of the shorter teenager. “Those who were relatively short when young”, they explained, “were less likely to participate in social activities associated with the accumulation of productive skills and attributes, and report lower self-esteem.”.

Things don’t get much better once they are employed, either. Shorter men are less likely to be afforded promotions and pay-rises than their taller peers. A study by Leland Deck of the University of Pittsburgh found that men who are 6’2 or taller earn 12.4% more than men who are below six feet.

Then there is the challenge of forming intimate relationships. Men are considered attractive when they are tall, broad-shouldered, and well-toned. An analysis of personal ads found that most women prefer dating men who are six-foot-tall and over, especially when it comes to casual sex.  A study published in the March 2016 edition of Personality and Individual Differences journal found that while women did not particularly care about hair, weight, or penis size, they did care about a man’s height. It is believed that the primary reason for this preference is that height is a sign of high testosterone – and men with higher testosterone tend to be better protectors and lovers.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that height is a source of great insecurity for many men. The shorter man’s sense of insecurity and resentment is almost certainly borne out of poor experiences associated with their stature. Smaller children are more likely to be the victims of taunts and ridicule. As adults, shorter men find it more difficult to form intimate relationships, find employment, and achieve positions of authority and status. Perhaps people ought to remember that Napoleon Complex is more complicated and entrenched than they like to believe.